The Westphalian Peace Congress is still regarded as a key moment in the history of early modern international relations, especially with regard to the development of diplomacy. However, in taking a cultural perspective for analysing early modern diplomacy, scholars of the so-called New Diplomatic History strangely neglected it. This is unfortunate, as the Westphalian Peace Congress offers an excellent source base for taking up an actor-centred approach. Moreover, to be able to (re)valuate its significance within the history of diplomacy, more in-depth research is needed.
The project “Networks of Interests at the Westphalian Peace Congress” conducted by Dr Lena Oetzel, therefore uses it as a case study to examine the relationship between the actors on-site and the macro level of politics. The concept of interest thereby functions as a connecting category that allows us to see the actor and the collective in relation. Analysing the different and often diverging interests the diplomats had to pursue – their master’s as well as their own – will enable us to connect both aspects.
Therefore, three guiding questions will be answered:
(1) What kind of methods of interest enforcement did early modern diplomats use?
(2) Can the perspective of the diplomat’s interest help us to get a clearer picture of the diplomat as an independent actor, not only as an instrument of his master?
(3) How important was the individual diplomat with regard to the negotiations? Meaning, how exactly were actor and collective linked?
Focussing on a selection of Imperial diplomats and diplomats representing the Imperial Estates, – the main focus lies on the Principal Imperial ambassador Maximilian Graf von Trauttmansdorff and Dr Johann Leuber, delegate of the elector of Saxony. The project seeks to examine their “webs” of interest and how they balanced them. As the diplomats had to manage different roles – as their master’s servants, family members, heads of household, noblemen, clients, patrons, etc. – one can assume that their interests resulted from these roles and their underlying norms and values. Examining how each diplomat handled his specific conflicts and prioritised the interests gives us a more profound understanding of the diplomat’s individual agency. Such an analysis on the micro level is the condition for the more general question of the importance of the diplomats for the negotiations and within the process of political decision-making. Thus, the concept of interest helps us connect actor and society, diplomat and master, the daily life of peace negotiations and the “big” politics of 17th century Europe.